Mshindi: Covid-19 tender scandal probes will yield nothing

A Kenya Airports Authority worker looks on as a consignment of medical equipment donated by Jack Ma and Alibaba Foundations is offloaded from a plane at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on March 24.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • One company registered by a young Kenyan earlier this year was allegedly single-sourced to supply medical equipment worth Sh4 billion.
  • Endemic corruption has generally meant that hardly anyone well connected has been punished for stealing public money.

True to form, several investigations have been triggered by revelations of grand theft in the spending of billions of shillings appropriated in the national budget or loaned to Kenya from international organisations to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. That the recommendations of those investigations will hurriedly be buried like a Covid-19 death victim is also a certainty.

The Senate ad-hoc committee on Covid-19 on Thursday ordered Auditor-General Nancy Gathungu to investigate how money raised at national and county levels to respond to the pandemic has been used. She is to file her report by September 4.

Another probe has simultaneously been ordered by Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani. He wants all government ministries to account for their Covid-19-related expenditures by next Friday.

While it is expected that all cash spent on public activities should be accounted for fully, the urgent tone of these two probes can be explained by the dismay and anger provoked by reports that extraordinarily large amounts of cash have been, or will be, paid out for sweetheart contracts.

Public procurement regulations

One company registered by a young Kenyan earlier this year and that cannot have demonstrated the capacity or experience of executing large contracts was allegedly single-sourced to supply medical equipment worth Sh4 billion and given plenty of lead time to procure. This could contradict any single-sourcing justification that may cite the emergency circumstances of the pandemic.

The Kenya Medical Supplies Authority, which gave the contract, will attempt to justify this peculiar decision, as it will try to sanitise its decision to work outside public procurement regulations governing emergencies and award contracts to companies at highly inflated prices. It does not help their case that almost all the companies so favoured are connected to powerful political individuals and some to the highest office in the land.

But this link and the general avarice of people sitting on oversight bodies is, ironically, what provides those that may be found culpable an escape hatch.

Endemic corruption

Endemic corruption has generally meant that hardly anyone well connected has been punished for stealing public money.

The famous 2016 scandal at the Ministry of Health in which Sh5 billion was paid for a dubious procurement that gifted the ministry with junk draped as mobile clinics is a recent example. People were quietly moved and life went on.

Some may recall the rather leaky explanation given by Ministry of Health officials to account for Sh1 billion emergency donation by the World Bank towards Covid-19 activities earlier this year.

Nothing happened beyond finger-pointing and pompous condemnation by Parliament committees.

The Forestry Cabinet Secretary has gone quiet after exciting Kenyans that he could repossess land illegally excised from the Ngong Forest Reserve. Without prejudging what may or may not be happening there, the fate of the Ndung’u Report, which recommended wide-ranging and tough measures to recover illegally acquired public land, is a powerful pointer to what is happening there.

It is highly unlikely that the public will ever know who received the Sh115 million cut from the cash looted from the National Cereals and Produce Board despite the corruption fighting agencies that nailed Sirisia MP John Waluke and Ms Grace Wakhungu having the capacity and competence to tell us.

Those are the untouchables that mock the government’s declarations on fighting corruption.

In this case of the Covid-19 cash, the mighty, whose relatives are recipients of the contracts, will protect the contract issuers.

Delays and postponements

After all, it will not be the first time procurement regulations have been breached. So, with all his good intentions, Ambassador Yatani will, on his own motion or through an external prompt, be persuaded to promise action that will not be forthcoming.

At the Senate, the Auditor-General will make her presentations. This will be followed by a series of appearances by various individuals to explain their roles.

There will be delays and postponements, almost certainly punctuated with many non-formal meetings for consultations over “cups of tea”.

Hardline positions will be softened by generous cash considerations common in these circumstances. Some innocuous recommendations will follow and that will be it.

So, public dismay will be seen to have triggered action. That action will achieve nothing. Meanwhile, business continues with billions of Covid-19 still lying around and an expensive election looming.